Monday, January 16, 2012

Stephanie Lazarus Case - Interview with a Former UCLA Dorm-mate

Stephanie Lazarus, date unknown

With the holidays a few weeks behind us, I have "finally" finished my portion of a massive project on behalf of my family. Three months of daily work late into the night, literally hundreds and hundreds of pages of detailed worksheets and a thirty-plus page report summarizing my findings. Calling it a difficult project doesn't even come close. I'm so relieved to put that task behind me and get back to what I enjoy most and that's attending a trial and reporting on the proceedings for T&T's readers.

I recently had the opportunity to meet in person, an individual who lived on the same floor of UCLA's Dykstra Hall during the time that Stephanie Lazarus and John Ruetten were enrolled. They also kept in contact with Lazarus for many years after graduation. For those of you who have been living in a cave, Stephanie Lazarus, a 25-year veteran detective of the LAPD has been charged with the February 1986 cold case murder of Sherri Rae Rasmussen, the new wife of her ex-boyfriend, John Ruetten.

The individual I spoke to was not looking for media attention for themselves, but did want to give T&T's readers a more in depth picture of Stephanie Lazarus, one other than the two dimensional character that the mainstream media has presented. I have agreed to protect this individuals name and gender, identifying them only as "Pat" (not their real name) for the rest of this entry.

Pat is in their 50's, has a family and and works as an administrator for a company affiliated with a local university. Before I even agreed to speak to Pat, I stressed that I could not talk to them if they were on the prosecution or defense witness list. I did not want my interview with Pat to be construed as possibly trying to influence the trial or potential witness' testimony. Pat assured me that they were not. Between Christmas and the new year, Pat and I met at a local coffee shop.

Pat first met Stephanie when she was a freshman and Pat was a junior at UCLA. They lived on the same floor of Dykstra Hall which was a co-ed floor. Back during the late 1970's, California universities, including UCLA, were considered the cream of the crop in higher education. Pat remembers there was a strong feminist sector during that time and the women who were accepted for enrollment were probably scoring much higher than average on intelligence tests.

Pat got to know Stephanie very quickly. "You got to know everyone who lived on the floor," Pat said. Stephanie was not "unique" in that, she didn't stand out from other women, but Pat went onto say, "She was more strong willed and assertive than most." During Stephanie's years at UCLA, Pat remembers her as a very outgoing, gregarious and strong willed person. Pat said, "She still has that same personality today." Pat also said that Stephanie's tongue could turn sharp very quickly, putting someone in their place if they said something that she perceived as negative or talking down to her. This attitude Stephanie projected could also make people feel a bit uncomfortable.

Lazarus was a jock in high school where she played on the women's basketball team and she continued her strong interest in athletics at UCLA. Pat and Stephanie socialized at UCLA basketball games or when there might have been a party in the dorm. Pat remembers that they had one or two classes together and they sometimes studied together.

Stephanie's major was political science. Back then, UCLA did not have a 'pre-law' program and Pat states a political science major was "...code for pre-law." Pat also recalls having at some point a discussion with Stephanie about plans for a future career as an attorney. When Pat learned Stephanie had joined the LAPD, they were surprised and could not immediately see her in that role. Later Pat came to believe being an officer did fit her personality and that Stephanie seemed comfortable and happy with her career choice. Pat said that they talked with Stephanie over the years about being a peace officer and "...Steph took a lot of pride in her job and was comfortable with it."

Through the 1980's, Stephanie would call Pat up, looking for information about friends and they would chat, catching up with each others lives. About ten or twelve years ago, Pat came home to find a business card left on their door from "Unique Investigations". Pat showed me the saved business card. The note on the back said, "Call me. Don't have your number. Steph." In prior conversations with Pat, Lazarus had mentioned she was getting into PI work and was being mentored by a senior officer. When Pat called back, it was for an invitation to a "reunion" party that Stephanie was hosting at her Simi Valley home, for her fellow dorm-mates who lived on the 10th floor at Dykstra Hall.

Lazarus initiated and hosted the party. Pat remembers Stephanie's current boyfriend was there but Pat did not interact with him or remember his name. (It's quite possible this person is Lazarus' current husband, a fellow police officer.) At the party, Pat was mostly focused on their fellow dorm-mates and catching up with their lives.

Pat does not remember having any conversations with Stephanie around the time of Rasmussen's murder. At the time, Pat lived in a different part of the city and wasn't too concerned with crime in the San Fernando Valley. Pat indicated they may have read about the crime when it happened, but has no memory of that.

Pat said, "I can't imagine her doing something like this. Although she can be cocky and brash, the Steph I know is a straight forward and to the point woman." Pat also said that as Lazarus progressed in her career, she became more serious, professional, and dropped her playful side. Still, she was outgoing and had a lot of energy. Pat never saw Lazarus as someone who could become obsessed.

The next pretrial hearing is scheduled for Friday, January 20th, 2012, in Department 104 at the downtown Criminal Court Building. Opening statements are tentatively scheduled for February 6th, 2012.


ritanita said...

Great interview, Sprocket. A little bit on inside info about a defendant is always welcomed.

I can't wait to hear about the hearing on the 6th.

I'm so glad your big project is finished and you can focus on the case!

Anonymous said...

Glad you're back. You've been missed.

NancyB said...

Interesting interview. I'm so glad that you are covering this case. It was such a brutal murder - I'm on the fence about whether Steph is a sociopath or not but my instinct is that she is. Any thoughts that you have on this? I also wonder if she had a "secret" drinking problem back then. My heart breaks for Sherri's parents and all that they have been through.

Chris said...

Sprocket . . . is writing about crime better than helping Mr. Sprocket with pvc fittings? So nice to see your hand again and look forward to your full Lazarus coverage. Can't wait to see how defense tears apart chain of custody on the envelope that was found cut into with items "hanging out." Ciao

Sprocket said...

Nancy B: I would not even attempt a psychological dx of Lazarus at this point. I doubt something like that will come out at trial.

Please keep in mind that people who are not psychopaths do murder when their emotions are pushed to the edge. I am with maverick criminalist Dr. Lonnie Athens regarding violent behavior. I believe it's learned and I believe the individual has already accepted violence as an acceptable response to conflict before they commit a violent act. I don't believe there is such a thing as a "crime of passion". My question would be of a defendant who uses that defense: "If you never thought of hurting someone, then why did you pick up the gun/knife/crow bar to begin with and aim it at the victim?"

Chris, What do you think? :D I wish it was PVC fittings; it's copper right now, heavier, dirtier...each piece has to be sanded and prepared before you can solder. Come January 31st, helping Mr. Sprocket will come to a temporary end and I'll be in downtown LA waiting to see if voir dire starts on time and hopefully, getting a seat.

As far as the HVAC project, today we are shifting gears from the basement to outside since we are expected to get a few days of rain out here in a day or so. We'll be working on running the new refrigeration lines up the side of the building with pre-insulated soft copper that comes in a 50 ft. "roll". Since we are going up a building, the lines will have to be stretched out first before we can begin to mount them. The trial can't start soon enough for me.

Don't forget Chris, the prosecution has other DNA evidence besides the bite mark swab that does not have chain of custody or tampering issues. This is covered in one of the pretrial hearings and you can find it in the Lazarus Case Quick Links.

There were two torn fingernails found just inside the entrance to the condo. These items would not have been collected by the coroner, but by the LAPD crime lab techs. (Remember, anything attached to the body goes with the coroner; everything else would be collected by the LAPD crime techs.) These fingernails were tested in early 2011 with a relatively new extraction technique. One came back with a one in 26,000 match and the other a one in 9,000 match. The matches are not as good at the bite mark swab (1 in 14 quadrillion), but still, another match.

The defense fought to keep this evidence out pretrial and failed.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the interview with Stephanie Lazarus' former dorm-mate. One thing we have found out in following trials is that once there is a DNA or fingerprint match, the rest of the pieces fall into place.

David In TN

Chris said...

Thanks for the reminder Sprocket . . . you = awesome.

NancyB said...


Your response is very helpful. I had not known of Dr.Lonnie Athens' work - thanks.

Anonymous said...

Oh Sprocket! I heard about this case! I didn't realize it was heading to trial finally though. It's amazing how they finally got her! I hope justice is finally served! I look forward to your reporting!

Kitty M.